My Path with Teach for India
The Road that led me to Teach For India…
Vikram Bhat, an amazing human being and an inspiring teacher leader worked with Teach for India’s Expansion team a couple of years ago. One afternoon, over a lemon tea at Christ University we discussed our future; Vikram shared stories of children he’s interacted with through the years. Heart-wrenching stories of small successes inside the classroom, petty fights, blooming friendships and one that I would never forget – an 8th grader who had so much potential yet chose to end his life.
I still vividly remember Vikram’s eyes moisten when he shared that story with me. I remember feeling a chill down my spine and the goosebumps all over my body. I remember going back home with thoughts of the boy who I never met, the boy I heard so much about in that last hour and couldn’t help but wonder what someone could have done to change what had happened.
That day I went home and saw the Teach for India website.
“76% OF STUDENTS DO NOT MAKE IT PAST TENTH STANDARD, 52% OF STANDARD 5 STUDENTS CANNOT READ A STANDARD 2 TEXT” caught my attention the most. At first, it saddened me. And then, it angered me. Reading these mind-boggling statistics stirred something inside of me. I knew that our country was facing an educational crisis that threatened the moral fabric of our society, from its current well-being to its very economic future. I knew that, until this moment, I had never spent one second thinking about the educational opportunities that I was privileged to have enjoyed. After seeing this reality, I knew that I couldn’t remain a by-stander anymore; I couldn’t remain ignorant about the crisis any longer.
I knew that I had a responsibility to my country – to take a stand and join this movement – to take a risk for something much larger; an opportunity to provide educational opportunity for all of India’s children.
Today, 2 years later, I teach 43 3rd graders in Saidapet, Chennai. These tiny humans know way too much about suffering and pain. But, they manage to come to school each day, and they manage to have the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. I’ve learned to realize how important it is to not only build on their energy, enthusiasm and positivity, but also to ensure that they don’t just survive, but they thrive. Considering the community that my kids come from, a host of issues have shaped their lives and their identities: domestic violence, gender bias, broken families, physical and verbal abuse, disease, suicide and death. In the absence of a strong positive role model, most of these brilliant children settle for mediocrity. However, I know and I believe that can change. They’ve taught me that can change.
Changing that, in fact, is the challenge I signed up for. It’s what we all signed up for.
That very challenge demands that we push ourselves and do whatever it takes to overcome them. These array of challenges become a gamut of opportunities that would lead us to learn, to explore and ultimately become more. We transform ourselves by constantly seeking more opportunities to grow as teacher leaders. For the work that we do, every minute of every day is of paramount importance. It’s not just about one or two people; the work that we do matters to every single stakeholder that we interact with.
So yes, all of that is the challenge. But, here’s the bigger challenge –
It’s ensuring that we guide our kids to greatness. It’s ensuring that they own the betterment of their communities and their society. It’s empowering them to be independent, self-made and responsible individuals.
That’s our real challenge. It’s also our dream.
I still remember the first few weeks of my fellowship so vividly. I remember wanting to go home. I remember missing my family. I remember how my 1BHK felt like the loneliest place. I remember the intense fatigue. I remember the health issues that sprung up. I remember complaining incessantly about everything – food, people, roads, auto uncles and even the unusually low flying crows. I find the need to ground this post to that reality because it amplifies how much an individual can change over 18 months.
Today, I’ve made myself a home here. My children and school team are my family. Every moment of every day that I complained about, I now see as a learning opportunity.
Everything I whined about back then, is now something I look forward to everyday (even the crows). I owe this shift in trajectory to my little munchkins. It is unreal what love can do. Over these months, I have grown to love these children and myself. And this love empowers me to do anything and everything to ensure I be the best I can be, today, tomorrow and always. The fellowship has changed me and my life in a way that I never thought it could.
Passing the Baton
As Fellows, we’re a part of a marathon, passing the baton every two years to another visionary leader ready and set to educate India. As a second year Fellow, I can’t help but think and wonder about the rock star that is going to take over my classroom, the visionaries who are going to take over ALL of our classrooms.
As much as I know how real this challenge is, I also know that solving India’s educational crisis demands that we find thousands of more leaders, just like us. The crisis is just too big to solve alone.
If Vikram hadn’t shared his story with me that day, I may have not warranted a reaction that led him to think I was a perfect fit for the Fellowship. Imagine missing out on some fantastic potential Fellows because we didn’t take that little time out to inspire and share.
For ALL our children and their dreams, I beseech you to share your stories, however small or big. Let’s find these individuals together. Maybe one day you’ll find someone to pass on the baton to over lemon tea.